The gray whale spring northern migration from the waters off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to Alaska’s Bering Sea reaches its peak in late March, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The whales move more slowly and closer to the beach during the spring migration because there are calves in the pod. About 18,000 gray whales pass by the Oregon coast. The peak for the south-bound return trip is the end of December and the beginning of January.
During annual “Whale Watch Weeks” volunteers are stationed at viewing spots along the coast, including the Umpqua Lighthouse, to help visitors spot whales. To watch the migration, it is best to pick a calm day and find a view point that is high enough to spot the spouts. When warm, moist air exhaled from the whale’s lungs meets the cool air at the ocean surface, it creates the column called a blow or spout. A gray whale’s blow is up to 15 feet high. Each blow is visible for about five seconds. Anticipate that the whale will dive for three to six minutes, then surface for three to five blows in a row, 30 to 50 second apart, before diving deep for three to six minutes again.
LA Times Travel writer Hugo Martin calls it an “adrenaline jolt” that’s a world class thrill. Sandboarding is one the newest – and coolest – sports on the Oregon Coast. The idea is similar to snowboarding: you stand on a board and slide down a hill. Only on the Oregon Coast the sport isn’t season dependent and the hill isn’t covered with powdered snow. It’s a dune of dry, fine sand. That’s a great difference. You don’t have to deal with freezing weather and bone-jarring falls on iced-over slopes and it’s inexpensive because you don’t need a lift ticket or costly gear.
Sandboarding is an international sport, with enthusiasts in Australia, South America, Africa and Europe as well as the United States. The Sandboarding World Championships are held annually in Germany. According to Wikipedia, professional boarder Erik Johnson holds the Guinness World Record for speed on a sandboard at 51 mph and unofficial speeds of 60 mph have been clocked.
The first “sandboarding park” was founded in Oregon in 2000. Sand Master Park, a few miles north of Reedsport on Highway 101 in Florence, is a 40-acre dune park with portable jumps, rails and board rentals. It is said to have drawn 10,000 boarders in 2009.
The Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area provides plenty of free slopes where you can test your technique. As long as the sand is dry, hike a dune, wax your board and make your run down a sand mountain.
ATV/UTV journalist Dennis Cox calls it “The Best Dunes in the World, The Best Scenery in the World, and The Best People in the World.” DuneFest is a five-day mid-summer ATV/UTV rally held in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. ATV/UTV enthusiasts compete in Sand Drag racing, Moto Cross racing, Sand Drags, Poker Run, Show ‘N’ Shine, Charity Auction, Freestyle Shows and much more. Vendor Row offers all-terrain vehicles, clothing, crafts, accessories, and food. The event offers a kid’s safe riding area. A free shuttle bus service runs from Winchester Bay. Camping is available in the sand or in the county or private campgrounds. DuneFest transforms the quiet dunes into a city in the sand, with up 10,000 visitors coming every year. Hundreds of volunteers help make DuneFest the premiere ATV/UTV sand event in the country. It is known world-wide as the “Best Sporting event in Oregon.”
The Umpqua Lighthouse towers above Winchester Bay. The 65-foot tower contains a distinctive lens which emits a red and white flash, visible 21 miles out to sea. The lighthouse and adjacent museum are operated and maintained by the Douglas County Parks Department.
The original lighthouse, visible only as ships approached the river, was lit in 1857. Erosion led to its collapse in 1863. In 1892, the new tower, a virtual twin to the Heceta Head Lighthouse, was built 100 feet above the river. Lit in December 1894, the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens features 616 hand cut prisms from the firm Barbier & Cie in Paris, France. Its clockwork mechanism was restored in 1985. The structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Umpqua Lighthouse State Park is located less than a mile from Salmon Harbor on Winchester Bay. The campground and developed day use areas are centered around beautiful Lake Marie. Access to this small, freshwater lake is provided for angling and non-motorized boating. There is also a small, sandy beach for swimming. The is centered in the stretch of towering dunes protected by the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes, many of which reach heights of 500 feet, are ideal for the off-road enthusiasts, or for anyone who enjoys the wonders of nature.
Forest Hills Country Club
This beautiful green golf course is open to the public and is one fine 9-hole layout with four sets of tee boxes. The course is rated for several tee combinations for both men and women to meet the needs of all skill levels. The greens are pristine, set amongst mature spruce and alders, is well wind protected. Prices are very reasonable and the course can be walked or rental carts are available. Wildlife abounds! Staff is friendly and professional.